[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/04/art.cars.gi.jpg caption="As sales plunge, the Big Three are back to plead for a bailout."](CNNMoney.com) - The CEOs of the leading automakers were back before Congress Thursday, arguing for a larger bailout than they asked for just two weeks ago, and hoping to undo the damage they did to their case at the earlier hearings.
The three automakers are now asking for up to $34 billion in federal loans, up from their earlier request for $25 billion in assistance. Two of them, General Motors and Chrysler LLC, are warning that without immediate help, they could run out of the money they need to operate before the end of the year.
This time GM CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally and Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli drove fuel-efficient hybrids to Washington, rather than flying in on corporate jets as they did two weeks ago.
Ford and GM have since announced they will sell their jets. And all three CEOs have agreed to cut their pay to $1 a year if they get the federal help they are seeking.
After presenting plans to Congress Tuesday that detailed how they would use loans to return to profitability, each company warned of tremendous damage to the economy if they are forced to file for bankruptcy because of lack of help.
In prepared testimony Thursday, Mulally quoted an estimate from Goldman Sachs that said the impact to the economy from failures could be up to $1 trillion.
But the Big Three face an uphill battle to get loans approved by a skeptical Congress. Even the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate who are in favor of help for the automakers have refused to commit to calling the outgoing members of Congress back next week to vote on an auto bailout.
Congressional leaders are concerned that public opinion has turned strongly against help for the automakers. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of nearly 1,100 Americans conducted earlier this week found 61 percent oppose a bailout while only 36 percent support it. Even in the Midwest, home to most of the automakers' remaining plants, 53 percent of those polled said they oppose federal help.
That was a sharp reversal from polls taken before the CEOs last trip to Capitol Hill. A poll November 11 and 12 conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found 55 percent supported federal assistance for automakers at that time, and only 30 percent believed they should not get federal help.